Life in Los Angeles is Killing Me
My alarm buzzed at 6:00AM, waking me out of my deep slumber. I fumbled in the darkness of the early morning to shut the alarm off and begin yet another 12+ hour day of work and commuting.
Originally, I didn’t want a car. I wanted to just get by with a bike, a ride form my boyfriend every now and then, and the trains—yet it was impossible. The distance from my boyfriend’s house to the train station was 20 minutes away by car, which is almost 90 minutes away by bike. Thus I was forced to lease a car, which costs me a ridiculous amount of money every month. An asset I honestly don’t want, but is impossible to live without in the United States.
At 6:45 I leave the house and arrive at the train station just in time for the 7:03 train. It takes 70 minutes by rapid train to reach downtown Los Angeles. I could drive, but with rush hour traffic my commute would be over two hours. Driving in high traffic for over 4-5 hours daily is a road rage nightmare I refuse to burden. Instead, I pay 24 dollars a day (350 dollars a month–a hefty sum) to have peace of mind and ride the train.
Once I reach downtown Los Angeles, it’s another twenty minute walk form the station to my office. I finally arrive at the office at 8:45 AM. Work officially begins at 9 AM.
My office is a small one, with all of my co-workers being Japanese (except for one). All of my work is conducted in Japanese—from the language down to the red tape politics. I like to call my office “the library,” because no one talks to each other and it’s a silent, sterile place. I can think of no other words to describe my office environment except for “ice box.” We are separated by cubicles and face a wall. We don’t make jokes or talk to one another. Sometimes I flashback to my former boss Takada-san in Shanghai that sat by my side, ever smiling, and I hold back tears.
But that life is over, and I’m in America now.
Work ends at 5 PM. I walk another twenty minutes back to the train station to make my return ride home, which is the 5:45 PM departure train. The train ride home is, again, another 90 minutes–but unforeseen delays such as technical malfunctions or track misalignment will sometimes delay my arrival ten, or even twenty minutes late.
The clock strikes 8:00 PM and I’m finally home. My 12 hour day is finally finished.
I’m famished. I open the fridge and there is nothing readily available to eat without cooking, and my heart sinks again.
“Cheer up Mary,” my boyfriend says as he walks into the kitchen to greet me, worry on his face. “Things will be ok. Don’t be down.”
I put on my best smile and tell him I’m fine. Go upstairs, I shoo him, let me make dinner. I’ll cook to cheer myself up and forget about everything. Don’t worry about me.
My boyfriend, concerned, gives me a big hug and comforts me. I’ll be right back, he says, and he goes upstairs to tidy up.
I take out the cutting board and knife. I pull out the vegetables from the fridge, a few tomatoes, some kale, and an avocado. I start to boil some water for pasta. As I wash the tomatoes in the sink, the aching in my chest finally gives way and tears begin to fall.
Before I know it, I can’t stop crying. I take out a few tissues and wipe my eyes, but the tears keep coming.
I have been repeating the above process for over eight months, and it’s slowly eating away at my sanity.
Basically, I’m miserable in America.
I lived for six years without a car and without a commute. Only a year ago, I lived in a place where I could reach the grocery story with a simple, ten minute walk.
Now, it’s a fifteen minute drive with my car. I have to drive everywhere, and traffic can sometimes make a ten mile drive 30-40 minutes long.
I only have five fellow employees at my office and none of them are warm, open or friendly. At all of my previous jobs I easily befriended co-workers, but even after eight months at this position I feel no camaraderie with any of my staff. I have made no friends at work, and thus have yet to make any close friends in California.
My commute is more than four hours a day. It’s a brutal commute, a commute which many would call insanity—if you told me I would be doing this a year ago, I would tell you not a chance in hell. Yet, here I am doing it—and all to save money.
Rent in downtown Los Angeles is around 1,000 dollars per month, which is simply not affordable. Even if I were to live in the outskirts of Los Angeles, rent would be 800 dollars for a shared flat and I would still have a one hour commute with a 100 dollar monthly parking fee. I returned to America in order to save money, not blow it all on rent, so I endure with the commute because currently I can live rent free with my boyfriend and, personally, I don’t think living in L.A. is worth the money.
I flashback to my commute in Shanghai from one year ago: A mere ten minute walk to the office from my affordable apartment in the heart of the city. More tears start to emerge and I tell myself that I can’t compare, I just can’t, and I block Shanghai out of my mind, hoping to stop the tears.
When I think of my friends in Shanghai—I’m a goner. I’m gushing at this point and I can’t stop the memories from flooding in.
Finding a job that will sustain a Los Angeles lifestyle is difficult, yet finding employment in my boyfriend’s suburban neighborhood is even more impossible. This, coupled with the endless commute in all directions as well as the aggressive drivers on the road, has driven me to the point of insanity.
My boyfriend needs to stay here for another year and a half for work reasons, and while I love him and want to stay here with him, I don’t know how to find a happy medium. I ponder the thought of moving into Los Angeles proper to perhaps enjoy this so-called “glamorous lifestyle” that L.A. offers, but it doesn’t look attractive in the slightest and I’m not thrilled at the aspect of moving away from my boyfriend. Plus, paying high rent to live in a city that’s clogged up with traffic and overpriced parking seems hardly worth the price tag.
Everyday, when I walk out the door at 6:45 AM to leave for work and return back through the same door at 8:00 PM, defeated, I wonder about how I can change my life—about how I absolutely need to change my life. I can’t continue to live with a long commute like this or in a city that is so heavily reliant on a car; but aside from New York I can’t think of any place in the U.S. where I can live comfortably without a vehicle (especially on the west coast). I want to find a happy solution where I have a job, I enjoy my life, and I can still stay with my boyfriend—but I can’t seem to find an answer.
It’s been almost one year since I left Shanghai, and not a day goes by I don’t think about my life there. As much as I’m trying, as hard as I’m fighting, as much as I want to—
I just can’t adjust. And maybe I never will.
I don’t open up much on here, but recently my writing has suffered and my state of mind in ruins due to my Los Angeles lifestyle. I don’t want to be negative on this blog, so I try to cover it up with interesting topics and stories from abroad—but really, this is a blog about me, and as horrible as this is, my reality is the above.
I know that I need to make a change. I know that something has to give—I just need the strength and resolve to do it.
Have you ever felt stuck? Or have any of you ever had troubles readjusting to home?
29 thoughts on “Life in Los Angeles is Killing Me”
Oh you poor thing! In this heartfelt post I could feel your pain and genuinely relate to what you’re feeling. I also am not happy when I go back to America. I was even recently stuck there for three additional months after visiting for my sister’s wedding. It was rough, and I didn’t even have a commute.
You need a change. I know you know that. Does your boyfriend need to be near LA? It sounds like you don’t have anything except him to keep you there. How are you saving money by going back to the States? With plentiful English teaching jobs in Shanghai and other places in China with high salaries with provided housing, I don’t see how you would save more money in the States. One of the reasons I don’t return to the states is because I can earn and keep more money here than I can there (and I have student debt to pay off). Sure I might be able to earn more in America but after taxes, rent, food, car costs, insurance costs…it ends up being less take-home than here after all.
I know it might seem unimaginable to be separated from your boyfriend for a period of time, but if your relationship is strong, and he is an understanding person, I think you guys could make a long distance relationship work. Go back and teach English for half a year at a time. Most schools will pay for your initial and departing flights.
I am thinking that you could do it, because I think I could do it (and my husband and I are very close). Think it over. six months is not the end of the world. I don’t want you to cry into your tomatoes anymore. This is my two cents.
Thank you so much for your words of support. It means a lot to me to have a fellow American telling me that it’s not just me! Many Americans think that the United States is the promise land and it makes me feel bad for being so unhappy here. I came back to the USA mainly for family and to “find my career.” While I’m closer to my family, the career part fizzled. I had no idea that living in the USA would be so expensive–and you’re totally right, although the salary is higher here, after all the expenses you end up saving less here. And believe it or not, my salary in Shanghai is higher than what I make now! I honestly thought America would pay much more, but it hasn’t. It’s really been enlightening moving back. Chinese people think Americans have it so good and they’re all rich, but after being here for almost a year I realize that most Americans have it pretty rough too. It’s very stressful.
I want to hang in here a little longer with my boyfriend, but after reading your comment I was half tempted to pack everything up again and move back to China haha. I know my boyfriend and I could definitely make it through a year of long distance, but I feel like maybe going back now isn’t the best thing to do.
Mary, you need to do something fast. Are you saving a lot right now? Do you think the money you are saving is worth ruining your mental health? I’m sure it is not.
You want to be with your boyfriend so you left everything behind to be with him. That is fine. Now you need to find a better plan. You said he has to stay there for at least 1.5 years. What would happen if you quit your job? Can he support you? You have to take into account that you wouldn’t need to spend anything on commuting, car, etc; you would definitely have less expenses. What about freelancing? You could work from home. Translating, writing, maybe even teaching Chinese and Japanese as a private teacher… Perhaps there is also some part-time job in the area? Working in a café, or something like that? I would consider that for a temporary solution until you are able to move somewhere else.
But you seriously need to quit that job and stop that commute from hell.
Marta! Thank you so much for the support, and again, I’m sorry to complain. I feel horrible, but at the same time seeing all the comments on here after my initial post and your support–it made me feel so much better.
Yes, you’re right, I need a change. I think I was too worried about ‘success’ and finding a career, and I thought this job would lead me to bigger and better opportunities–but I don’t think it’s worth all this misery (and when I think about it, I don’t think it will be that much of a career booster).
Yes my boyfriend often encourages me to go freelance and just relax. I think I shouldn’t worry about money and success so much and just take a few months off (kind of like you took a break in Suzhou!) to ‘heal’ and find out what I would really like to do. I shouldn’t let all of society’s pressures get to me.
I’m going to go into the office tomorrow and quit. It’s going to be super hard but I think it has to be done!
Thanks again for your support Marta, you’re so wonderful.
Yay!! I think it is the best decision. For me it was also hard to leave my old job, but it turned out to be the best move I could have made. I had 5 months to calmly reflect on my life and then I was lucky to find a job I love. I am earning less money but I am way happier.
I read below you already have some freelance gigs, that is fantastic! One client can lead to another. Working from home is definitely a good idea! And during my 5 months at home I actually lost some weight, so it is all advantages haha!
Don’t worry about complaining, we all have bad moments. I remember a few months ago I was the one whining in your blog’s comments and you were the one encouraging me 😉
To hell with society’s pressure!! We are free women and we decide abour our lives 😀
Yeahhh!!! To hell with it! I wish I could go out with you and celebrate this with you! haha, that would be so fun 😀
Anyway I actually found a new job (WOO!) that is closer and pays more. It’s not exactly my dream job but I’m looking forward to it.
Thanks so much Marta! You’re the best!
Yuhuuuu! That is great!! And so fast!! Congratulations!!! *^_^*
We will celebrate when you come to Shanghai for a visit or if I travel to the US :DDD
I just read your post about living in Los Angeles is killing you, becuse I literally googled living in Los Angeles is killing me. I hate it here. Maybe we can pen-pal or meet at some point (if we can ever make it through the traffic!) but if you’re still here and would like someone who gets it, I would love to be that person. I ABSOLUTLEY hate it here.
Hope you have a wonderful evening!
Girl, I STILL wonder why anyone would want to live here. Unless you REALLY need sunshine, I don’t know why anyone would pay so much $$$$ for pollution and traffic and expensive parking. If someone needs sunshine THAT badly, I say move to San Diego. I think a week doesn’t go by when I don’t say “Los Angeles is a sh*thole.”
If you would like to hate on Los Angeles together (I’d love to hear your story and how you ended up here!) feel free to email me! email@example.com
Good luck! And thanks for stopping by!
I think your blogger friends/fans and such know you are a positive person, so please don’t feel like you have to put on a brave face on your own blog! I’m happy to hear from you, but I also understand when you feel like everything is shit, you don’t want to reach out. Regardless, glad you did.
First. Feel free to email me or we can Skype if you need a chat/vent/sympathetic friend to talk to. I’m a good listener.
Second. I agree with the ladies above. You have to do something. You’re like tri-lingual. There should be translating work online for you to do, or at the very least start creating work for yourself to do. No time? Well, you might have hustle on the weekend to make something happen. That’s the bad news, girl, you are gonna have to work hard to get out of this situation.
Third. Ask for help.
Last. I think you should consider writing down what’s important to you. What you need. And have a heart to heart with the boyfriend. Sometimes, getting out of our heads by writing/free writing, lists, whatever works for you, helps immensely figure out what you need to do and what’s killing you. Do it on the train – get snarky, creative, etc.
I’m assuming you are doing all the things you are supposed to do during a long commute. Kiegels, doodles, farting, knock knock jokes…writing back to me.
Thank you Lani!!! You’re so kind!!!
Actually I do freelance work, and I get paid quite well doing it (almost as much as my full time job). I think I got greedy so I tried to do both, and while freelance has been good now it won’t always be (that’s the problem with freelance, no stable paycheck). But still, my boyfriend is very supportive so I think even without a steady paycheck I can get by–but I guess one of my goals in the USA was to save money and be financially secure, so I’m trying to work double. I actually do translation on the train ride home from work.
My boyfriend is really, really nice. We have a heart to heart a lot and he listens to me have emotional breakdowns from my job and the commute all the time. He tells me to quit all the time, so I just need the courage to leave. I worry about not having a paycheck and letting down my current company (they actually need me and the boss is super nice), but I don’t know if it’s worth my mental well being.
Anyway, thanks for being there for me 🙂 I’ll quit my job and read your book with my free time–stat!
Or. Why don’t you ask your boss if you can work from home? If your boss is great, you can just tell him everything you just said to me. Maybe you can work out a compromise?
Good luck, whatever you decide. And keep me informed, okay?
Ah, I work for the Japanese government, it would never fly. While my boss is nice and understanding, he still bows and takes orders from Tokyo HQ like he was trained to do. Working for a Japanese company is *extremely* traditional. If I asked to work remotely they would look at me like I was crazy.
I have some (semi) good news, though! I quit my job and immediately found another one, ha. The newer job is only a 20 minute drive away and pays more, so it’s a very welcome change.
Thanks for all your help Lani!! You are the sweetest (I’ll get back to your e-mail soon btw, I’ve worked 14 days nonstop and I’m about ready to keel over).
Yeaaa! Happy endings and beginnings. I’m very pleased to hear this. Looking forward to your email, chica. Hugs ^^
Please look at the positives especially your boyfriend. I am so miserable in Phoenix. I have never had anyone who (romantically) loved me who loved me in return. I assure you being miserable in a desert where the weather is nice ONLY 5 months out of the year and to never had mutual love is anguish. I’m from the east coast but have been here over 3 years paying off a student loan and saving money to live in Korea or maybe NYC for a year. My boss is great and if I had this job in NYC or even LA or somewhere pretty with great weather or even an ugly place with a beach at least, it would be easier. To make matters worse the man I loved quickly married a Beijing gal a little over a year ago.
You have your boyfriend–enjoy your time with him. What kind of train do you have to take? Is it not a local one that costs $7/daily for an all-day pass which I assume would be cheaper for a monthly pass?
Take time to enjoy the culture LA does offer. Find events. There are freebies. What are your interests? I can ask and look things up for you. I visit LA once or every other month. Go to Santa Monica, Venice Beach, etc. How’d the traffic to Laguna Beach? Laguna is nice.
Also there is less pollution in LA than in Chinese cities. Physically your health should be better. I know mentally it is worse but your body is cleaner although compared to the rest of America, LA is polluted but hey, better than Beijing.
Do you like big Korean supermarkets? There is a nice H-Mart in West Hollywood. Maybe there are more scattered in the city? Erewhon has nice organic food although pricey but it’s fun for at least one day to spoil yourself. Good ice-cream places include Sweet Rose Creamery and Beachy Cream. Think of the Armenian, Filipino, Peruvian, and Russian food you can eat and the little stores.
Feel free to email me. You can contact me through my blog. My blog email is firstname.lastname@example.org
Thank you so much for your support, it really means a lot. I’ll be in touch for sure.
I know that air and food is much cleaner here in California, but I guess the lifestyle is what really grates me the most. Some people love the Los Angeles life of driving in the 365 days of sunshine a year, but I don’t think that’s me. I really want to go explore more of Los Angeles, but my boyfriend lives so far away and when the weekend hits I’m so dead from the weekly commute to Los Angeles the last thing I want to do is go back there. My boyfriend is actually working at a hospital, too, so he’s crazy busy. When the weekend hits we just die. Although I was busier in Shanghai, I feel more tired here because of the lifestyle–the commute is soul sucking and the effort it takes to go anywhere is insane (parking, traffic, etc..). I think I would enjoy somewhere like NYC, too.
Anyway, thank you so much for your suggestions! And you’re right, we need to be grateful for what we have. Whenever I get depressed I think about people that don’t even have a home, or are struggling to make rent, or can’t find work to support their basic needs–and I feel so grateful.
I hope that you can make it to live in your dream destination! And although Phoenix doesn’t make you happy, at least you enjoy the job 😀
I really feel for you. I don’t have a job – for a lot of reasons, including the fact that I know it would end up somewhat similar to your experience. The car I currently don’t have and can’t afford, the commute, co-workers, the long days. . .ugh. I’m slowly exploring freelance stuff, and as non-lucrative as it is, it’s still better than having a job here, and I’m grateful necessity isn’t forcing me to do it yet. I miss my life abroad, with work, grocery stores, nightlife, cafes, EVERYTHING within a fifteen minute walk. I could be in another city in an hour by train. I feel so stifled here, and the most horrifying part is that I’m starting to get used to it. Also, I suck at making friends and meeting people, so I’m mostly alone and connecting with people virtually. . .and getting used to that too. Too bad we’re on opposite ends of the country! What about a summer stint teaching somewhere? Or like some others mentioned, just concentrating on freelance stuff?
Wow Kelly I’m so happy to read your comment.. I’m glad to know I’m not alone in feeling completely overwhelmed or exhausted from trying to cope with the American lifestyle (having a car, commute, etc). I wanted to get a job mainly for the social interaction, but my job ended up not having any (due to the Japanese style work environment) and the long commute drained me so much I didn’t want to socialize with anyone after work. I considered quitting cold turkey and focusing on freelance (actually, I live with the BF rent-free and he tells me to just take it easy all the time), but somehow I was offered a job two days ago at a university 20 minutes away from my boyfriend’s house, and as much as I kind of want to ‘bum it,’ I feel like I shouldn’t throw away a good work opportunity. I’ll give it a shot.
I’m so half tempted to turn down the offer and… recoup. I don’t know if it has helped you or not, but I think I need a few moments to focus and ‘heal’ (so to speak)… basically, just bum around writing and figuring out what I want to do with my life. Do you thinking having time at home to reflect has helped you put a lot into perspective?
Yes, I wish we didn’t live on complete opposite ends of the country, either! Arghhh!
I hope you’re doing okay back east btw, I bet that winter must be taking a toll on you pretty hard as well! If you ever need California sunshine let me know 🙂
Congrats on the new job offer! Hope it works out! Having time at home has really been a mixed blessing for me, since I’m still trying to make student loan payments and have been learning programming from scratch. So every once in a while I have a breakdown where I panic and think I need a reliable job NOW. But on the other hand, if my boyfriend’s job weren’t so lucrative, I’d probably be doing the first random 40 hour thing I got offered and wouldn’t have ever considered even trying CSS/HTML, so in the long run, it’s all been for the best 🙂
I know that CSS/HTML training is going to pay off! Your designs are awesome!!!
I hear ya, I wonder if I should just quit my full time job and focus on the things I want to do (which are very similar to you). Still, it’s hard to turn down stable income. I’ll give the job a try 😉
“Anyway I actually found a new job (WOO!) that is closer and pays more. It’s not exactly my dream job but I’m looking forward to it.”
I am glad things worked out for you in the end. 🙂
Thank you Eileen!!! I don’t know how much I’ll like the new job (not exactly my dream job, but..) I’m going to do my best!
I can totally relate to you, because I’m still here in the US (and I don’t want to be). I hate having to drive to work. My commute isn’t as brutal as yours, and I don’t live in LA (I’m up the coast in Monterey, and let me tell you, I’ve been wanting to leave this place for years). California is expensive as hell. I don’t want to NEED to drive. I love to drive, don’t get me wrong, but I think it’s completely ridiculous that I HAVE to drive AND own a car to do anything.
Congratulations on the new job, btw. I hope the shorter commute and a new work environment will help perk you up and give you a new lease on life. I’m just trying to find work that’s not in America that will still allow me to pay off my student loans. =__=
Yueni, you read my mind exactly. I feel like a car should be used to go on long trips or move large objects–not to do everyday necessities, like go to the grocery store or post office. Our dependence on vehicles in the USA is just ridiculous, and I really think it’s a huge hindrance on our way of life (its impossible to enjoy a city here, you just enjoy the road). Having a car is also a MASSIVE expense (it’s not like buying a bike!). The fact that most Americans have to shoulder this burden is just stupid to me.
While everyone raves about California, I really don’t think the pros here outweigh the cons. Yeah the weather is great and it’s got some pretty good nature, but the taxes, ridiculous cost of living and low wages make it SOOOO not worth it to me. While I haven’t been to Monterey, I recently went to SF and I was blown away by the traffic–it’s just as bad as LA!!
Anyway, I want to escape America with you (aha). Where do you think you would move if you had the option? I don’t think it would be China, right? I just applied for Irish citizenship and I’m crossing my fingers I can get the green light to (possibly) relocate to EU someday!
Honestly, almost anywhere not America sounds good to me right now. I’m looking at certain companies in China (and perhaps might need to speak with you about your experiences in Shanghai in the future), but staying in America is actually kind of shockingly stifling. I feel like I can’t do anything on an American salary in America.
I’d love to return to Europe, of course, but perhaps that might be a plan for the future. I lost 100+ images of Dublin, and let me tell you I am absolutely gutted about it. Ireland was lovely and I would love to return one day!
(this is yueni, btw, I suddenly remembered I had a wordpress account, and I need to figure out how to tweak the damn thing.)
Oh, the commute. The commute is evil. Jonathan Haidt, in his fabulous and fascinating book “The Happiness Hypothesis,” found that there were three things that humans could never get used to, and that these things made them unhappy. The first was noise that they did not control. Random, intrusive noise. The second was a commute. Humans can get used to living in bigger houses and in smaller houses, but THEY COULD NEVER GET USED TO A LONG COMMUTE. It made them miserable. At least you figured this out in less than a year.
The third thing that made humans miserable? I, um, forgot.
I used to leave my place before 6 in the morning and get to work early or go to a gym to avoid the worst that the 405 or the 110 had to offer. Then I’d work late or hit the gym to avoid evening rush hour. My kitties suffered terribly…well, no, they had each other, food, catnip, and a memory of maybe five seconds, but I felt guilty.
Glad you made a change! (I’m trying to figure out where you live, also. Palmdale? Lancaster? Santa Clarita?) And I am always jealous of anyone who gets to teach. Hope it works out!
I spent a summer in a small town in NH recently. It was awesome. Their version of traffic was three cars stopped for a moose.
Aha I love your quote! It is so true (now I’m dying to know what the third thing is… must google).
I think a long commute is something unbearable and soul sucking, but it seems like everyone in LA endures it–maybe that explains all the grumpiness and road rage?
I hear you about the leaving at 6 thing! Today was my last day at work and I left at 6 to beat the traffic on the 10 West, and I got to downtown LA at 7 AM or something crazy (two hours before work actually starts); but I still prefer that to sitting in traffic, at least I can sip on a coffee in Starbucks and do stuff–like write blog posts!
Anyway yeah, seasons, I miss them like crazy (I’m sure I’ll regret saying that someday, but until then…), I really miss wearing sweaters and coats and scarves oh my. I’ve only been back east once (to Boston), but it was in springtime and I fell in love with it. I’m sure New Hampshire is super pretty, I think of old cottages and green green green (no desert like here).
You have kitties! Kittiiieess!! (I love kitties).
I had to Google Map all those places you mentioned (see, I’m really not from LA). And wow, Palmdale and Lancaster are FAR! I live in the Inland Empire, the armpit of socal basically (near Claremont). I also have some family in Culver City, so I stay there when I don’t feel like commuting (like tonight, weee). Actually the drive from the Inland only takes 40-50 minutes, but if you add traffic 30 miles turns into 3 hours…
It’s crazy how in LA, you plan your life around traffic. I think I just have to build up my thick skin, get in the car and tough it out…!!
Haha yeah I remember when I went to Boise, ID last November and I was blown away by how empty the freeway was. When my friend said it was ‘rush hour’ I had to hold back my laughter… no one knows what rush hour is until they come to LA!